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I think EA is missing education as a priority. Here are the best reading on the subject.

Education and Health: Redrawing the Preston Curve Wolfgang Lutz Endale Kebede

Global Sustainable Development priorities 500 y after Luther: Sola schola et sanitate Wolfgang Lutz

Hunger and Public Action by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze

all of them freely available online to read


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   I have written a lot about education on this forum. See this old post of mine

Education is one of many things you can do with your time

I am talking about basic education here (12 years). A child going to school is not losing family time, they are  learning and playing with their friends at school. If there are not at school they might be looking after siblings, grazing the animals, or maybe doing nothing.

See GiveWell:

Givewell's research on education is of really poor quality.   Partly that is because they assume education has no intrinsic value and hence put little effort into it. Partly it's hard to disentangle effects of education because those effects last a lifetime, and can easily be mis-attributed to income, government policy, soap operas, economic policy etc...

regard their own education as a major source of intrinsic value, apart from its effects on other life outcomes?

The question of intrinsic and extrinsic value is not very interesting. We can ask why does health have intrinsic value? Income it is clear has no intrinsic value. UNDP considers Income, education, health to be equally important, because they allow us to leads lives that we want to live i.e. enhance human capability.  See Capability Approach

UNDP considers education an intrinsic good, absent other effects on welfare. But I'm willing to bite the bullet and ask whether UNDP is actually right.

Given the importance of HDI, the research backing HDI (kerala model), the people who created it (Mahbub ul Haq, Amartya Sen +others).  The starting point for any moral weights has to be HDI, we can differ from it but need really solid explanation for substantial deviations from HDI. The burden of proof is on the EA community  and especially Give Well.

After 30 years of HDI, the major changes are Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI), Gender Development Index (GDI),  Gender Inequality Index (GII), Multidimensional
Poverty Index (MPI)

In all of those indexes education is given equal importance to health and income. The persistence of education for 30 years in HDI and the newer indexes points to the importance of education.


Moral Weights of Education, Income, Health according to UNDP HDI

from http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/hdr-technical-notes

18 years of education = 1 life (85 years)

9 people doubling of income per capita for their entire lives = 1 life


765 years of additional income = 1 life


Give Well weights are wildly off from this. 

They were driven by government policy, the policy was around changes in  the schooling system + whatever changes were needed to encourage kids to go to school. The changes had NOTHING to do with "increase the returns to schooling" as Pritchett wrongly asserts.

Were these increases typically driven by public demand

This is really hard to tell. If there are no schools in walking distance of your village and hence no one goes to school does it mean there is no demand? If you live in an authoritarian country and know that the dictator will not build schools, and hence no one demands schooling. Is there no demand?

In the case of Kerala, Singapore local governments did all they could to encourage schooling. As a result enrollment increased. Does that mean there was an increase in public demand? (Edit: The governments of Kerala, Singapore also built the schooling system: building, teachers, books etc...)


Disentangling government action vs public demand is not so important. There are good practices from Singapore, Kerala etc... that can be learnt by governments the world over.

Quotes from the papers

Even more particularly, government policies that increase the returns to schooling
will be key to raising the demand for education. 

FALSE. See Sri Lanka, Jamaica,  Mauritius, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Indian state of Kerala. All of these  places had increases in schooling before increased economic returns.

Lots of people ask why EA isn't very focused on education (or any number of other causes).

Education is one of 3 parts of Human Development Index, the other being Income and life expectancy.  The fundamental and FATAL problem of the EA community is not giving education equal importance as the other parts of the HDI.

Here I am talking about INTRINSIC value, as an end in itself like life expectancy.

The EA community and Give Well have never published moral weights for education vs money or life expectancy. They have chosen to disregard UNDP and HDI. I wonder is the UNDP part of the outgroup?


Try reading the following

"Lots of people ask why EA isn't very focused on education (or any number of other causes)."

"Lots of people ask why EA isn't very focused on life expectancy (or any number of other causes)."

"Lots of people ask why EA isn't very focused on income (or any number of other causes)."

All of the above sound crazy to me, all of them are big buckets and issues. The lack of acknowledgement of the importance of education is the issue.


Whether there are "smart buys" in education is a secondary issue. The research might find  cost effective charities working in any combination  of income/life expectancy/education or exclusively in one of them.

The starting point has to be acknowledging the importance of education.

Linch we can also use HDI (Human Development Index) and calculate education ~= money

Here is what I get for children's education

6 years schooling = 890 PPP USD per year

9 years schooling = 2800 PPP USD per year

12 years schooling = 8500 PPP USD per year

Linch, Can you explain. What did not survive the test of time?

High fertility and death rates are normal for illiterate societies, this has been the way we lived for 1000's of years. The way to low fertility and low death rates is via basic education.

-Social movements (eg Fair Trade, Black Lives Matter, drug reform/prison reform movements)

I have been part of a few. Those perspectives are really useful.

· Global poverty that isn’t health. I'd like to see a handful of people in EA with expertise in, for example, climate policy, or education charities, or energy poverty in a developing world context.

Education and Human Development Indicators are something that EA needs to pick up.

No takers so far. As can be seen from the votes on my comments.

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